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5 Sales Planning Questions You Should Ask

Apr 10, 2018
3 min read
Sales organizations need strategic plans to drive growth. Learn how to set a strong foundation and improve sales planning with these 5 fundamental questions.

When it comes to revisiting your sales plans for the year, the question of whether or not you should change anything inevitably comes up. In some ways, this is the wrong question to ask. The more apt question is, did last year’s plan work or not? If not, then you know something has to change. If it did work, there’s likely room for improvement. In short, you should change your plan. 

But before beginning the design process, there are a few considerations you have to keep in mind. These sales planning concerns took center stage in the recent AA-ISP webinar 5 Critical Steps for Sales Planning Success. In this webinar, AA-ISP Chairman & Founder, Bob Perkins, teamed up with comp planning veteran Justin Lane to detail the elements that make up a successful sales plan. This design process starts with five critical questions.

1. What Are You Trying to Accomplish?

Simple, yet, you’d be surprised how many companies get ahead of this question and don’t establish clear goals with full leadership consensus. This last point is particularly important as alignment between leaders and the reps in the field can make or break your sales plan.

If there is disagreement on how to proceed, pre-design is the perfect time to root out those conflicts. Allow for an open forum here and test out the objectives with reps to get an initial temperature on this year's goals. Once this is done, list and tackle the different conflicting perspectives that will inevitably arise. And most importantly, have both sides represented on the design team. Not only will the design be perceived as fair, but the collaboration will likely lead to a better plan.

2. How Do You Avoid Making the Plan Worse?

The greatest fear and worst case scenario for the design team is that all the rework will actually make things worse. There are two ways to circumvent this problem. The first is to get into the planning process with data and best practices. Industry and company benchmarking tools can be a boon in this respect and start you off on the right path. 

Secondly, it comes backs to goals. Make short-term improvements measurable ones. These short-term goals will act as early warning signals, symptoms, for the health of your plan. Determine what that uptick will be in a month: net news, upsells, whatever is easy to measure and an expected change.

This means plan checkups are in order for quarterly and annual metrics. Revenue growth, gross margins, and sales costs as a percent of customer retention should be looked at in relation to the sales plan's effectiveness.

3. Whose Approval Do You Need for Design Changes?

This question goes back to the consensus mentioned in number one. Point people and decision-makers need to be set in stone before a plan is even implemented. While no one wants to deal with mid-year plan changes, they happen. For compensation, this might mean more than a sales VP.

Often, you’ll have to get buy-in from comp admins, IT, finance, and HR depending on the complexity of the system. The best thing to do is to document what each constituent expects when requesting or making a case for changes. “Yardsticks” should be pre-established and sorted—especially because they’re likely to be different from one another.

4. How Do You Get Salespeople and Sales Managers to Believe in the Plan?

Speaking of buy-in, ensuring that first-line sales managers and salespeople believe in the plan is absolutely critical to success. While you will get ahead of this with a transparent pre-design process and the inclusion of different POVs on the design team, there are other must-haves you need to keep in mind:

  • Town Halls prior to plan rollouts to discuss and squash any conflicts
  • Constant communication leading all the way up to the plan rollout. This doesn’t just mean just sending out emails. Bring up this info at all-hands, standups, etc. so there are no surprises
  • Motivate. Motivate. Motivate. Of course, incentives are a big part of this, but find other ways to rally the troops, whether that’s food bribes or fun team building exercises

5. Do You Know What Makes a Good Sales Compensation Plan?

Every company is different, but there are four fundamentals any organization can follow when looking to build a killer compensation plan. A great plan has the following 4 components:

  • The plan is focused on important sales: measures must align with company goals while remaining fair and attainable.
  • The plan motivates: the right mix of risk and reward will determine how motivating the plan will be to salespeople.
  • The plan encourages collaboration: ensure plans give credit where credit is due and that sales management’s and rep’s goals encourage working together on deals.
  • The plan creates value: a plan should produce identifiable sales productivity, meaning not only metrics but generate a sense that the whole team is winning.

To dive into more detail for each of these questions, make sure to watch the on-demand webinar here. Bob and Justin also cover:

  • Territory alignment
  • Quota setting
  • Plan and quotas communication timing
  • Effective coaching strategies
  • Team structures
  • Sales Coaching and Motivation
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Ronald Sierra
Content Writer

Ron Sierra is a Content Writer at Xactly. He earned a literature degree from UCSC and specializes in creating value-driven content for professionals in everything from construction to tech to sales & finance.